Free Woman of Color, Senegal, 1780s

Click on the image to open a larger version in a new window.
previous image return to thumbnails next image

If you are interested in using this image, please consult Acknowledging the Website.

This record was last updated on 25 Aug 2010

Image Reference

René Claude Geoffroy de Villeneuve, L'Afrique, ou histoire, moeurs, usages et coutumes des africains: le Sénégal (Paris, 1814), vol. 1, facing p. 69. (Copy in Special Collections, University of Virginia Library)

Caption, "Signar ou femme de coleur du Sénégal"; woman shown in elaborate dress, house in background. Villeneuve writes that women of color and free black women assume the Portuguese title of "signare" or "niara"; they live voluntarily with European men in a sort of marriage and view themselves as the legitimate spouses of these men, remaining faithful, and giving the father's name to the children who result from this union. He provides a detailed description of their clothing, adding that gold earrings, necklaces, and bracelets form part of their ensemble (vol. 1, pp. 68-69). Villeneuve lived in the Senegal region for about two years in the mid-to-late 1780s. The engravings in his book, he writes, were made from drawings that were mostly done on the spot during his African residence (vol. 1, pp. v-vi). The same illustration appears in color in the English translation of Villeneuve; see Frederic Shoberl (ed.), Africa; containing a description of the manners and customs, with some historical particulars of the Moors of the Zahara . . . (London, 1821), vol. 2, facing p. 31.